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Obama, GOP tag-team over trade deals

After a splintering among Democrats over ongoing trade negotiations overseas, the president is finding unlikely allies in the Republican Party.

As the United States draws nearer to a controversial trade deal with several Pacific Rim countries, the president is touting the benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pact years in the making.

"When I took office, we started thinking about how to revamp trade in a way that actually works for working Americans," Mr. Obama said Saturday in a new video. "And that's what we've done with a new trade partnership we're negotiating in the Asia-Pacific -- home to the world's fastest-growing markets."

TPP -- which includes the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam -- looks to create a free-trade zone in Pacific Rim nations, though it excludes China. But critics of the negotiations fear the impact on U.S. jobs, saying it would effectively pit American workers in direct competition with a cheaper foreign labor force.

"I understand why a lot of people are skeptical of trade deals," the president said, making a reference to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) -- a legacy of President Clinton that is criticized for shifting U.S. jobs to low-wage countries. "Past deals didn't always live up to the hype."

But the president was quick to point out that "they didn't include the kind of protections we're fighting for today."

"It's got strong provisions for workers and the environment -- provisions that, unlike in past agreements, are actually enforceable," Mr. Obama said. "If you want in, you have to meet these standards. If you don't, then you're out. Once you're a part of this partnership, if you violate your responsibilities, there are actually consequences."

The trade deal also includes Canada and Mexico, which the president said fixes the problems with NAFTA.

But a faction of the Democratic Party doesn't agree with the president's positive assessment of these deals.

Outspoken critic of the deal and regulatory hawk Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, have publicly written in opposition to TPP -- and have even earned rebukes from the president because of it.

Other Democratic leaders have expressed concerns that the new deals won't provide enough protections for U.S. workers.

"We need to stop entering into bad trade deals. I'm for trade, and I'm for good trade deals. But I'm against bad trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership," former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is likely to run against presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, said in a new web video posted on his leadership PACs website.

These criticisms could put a wrench in the administration's plans, especially when the White House and Congress are also pushing to "fast-track" trade deals like TPP.

Enter: The Republican Party.

Former vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, took up the trade mantle Saturday, in a nod to the "two historic trade agreements" the U.S. is currently negotiating with allies in the Pacific and Europe.

In the GOP's own video, the House Ways and Means Committee chair pushed for the upcoming "fast-tracking" Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation.

"TPA is a process for getting the most effective trade agreements possible -- and for holding the administration accountable all along the way," Ryan said. "TPA puts Congress in the driver's seat -- because it lets Congress set the agenda."

The Wisconsin Republican said his committee was "pretty excited" about TPA, calling it "one of the most important things Congress can do for the country right now."

This fast-track authority would allow Congress to weigh in on negotiations. TPA would allow Congress to give the president negotiating objectives and ensure transparency between the executive branch and the legislative body. Congress would then provide an up-or-down vote on the entire deal. The deliberative body, however, would give up the ability to change individual provisions.

"TPA will hold the administration accountable and get us the highest quality agreements possible," the congressman said.

The legislation is expected to come up for a vote in the next few weeks.